Literary Reflections is pleased to present our featured writing prompt response from November. Earlier this month, inspired by Ellen Blum Barish's essay, Exposed, we asked: Have you ever struggled with the possibility of exposing your children by writing about them? Or do you know how it feels to be the one exposed by someone else's writing?
Juliet Kilpin wrote:
I worry about my kids. Having one parent as a preacher is bad enough, but to have two is down-right unlucky! And it must be worrying too, for every preacher’s child knows the proverb:
Woe to the son of a preacher-man, for he is destined to have his life spewed forth in the unguarded passion of his father’s sermon.
Whilst TV presenters are told never to work with animals or children, they provide a preacher with many a sermon illustration that creates a funny introductory anecdote, or the appearance of being connected with the real-life experiences of their congregation.
Yes, children are funny. But to have their falls, farts and fantasies used as fodder for a congregation baying for laughter must surely have its consequences. One consequence could be the development of an innate ability to laugh at oneself and take ones foibles at face value. This is no bad thing and could indeed help build a confident, humorous individual.
A less than desirable consequence, however, could be a young adult who has grown tired with their mumblings and mistakes being shared with a quorum of individuals who probably don’t even know their birthday. The exposure of their characterful quirks could indeed scar them for life, seeding a fear of publicity and a reluctance to be vulnerable with others.
Some of the most vivid emotions adults experience when reminiscing on their childhoods is embarrassment. Who can fail to cringe when remembering the moment they called their teacher ‘mum’, had to go commando because they forgot their underwear for after the swimming lesson, threw up on the school bus, or got caught stealing the penny sweets?
Such childhood emotions are inevitable and not always bad. Let’s face it, we don’t stop feeling exposed as adults. To suggest an idea, to state one’s preference, to buy a new outfit, to write a book - all these things expose us to other people’s opinions which may differ to ours. To have learnt a coping mechanism for this as a child is undoubtedly helpful.
However, given that the prospect of exposure and embarrassment is so high in everyday life, it seems unfair to me for preachers to heap further mortification on the very children they claim to cherish most.
In an age where even the most talented communicator finds it a challenge to keep the attention of their audience, preachers have to work hard at passing on the truths they treasure. Too many of us have grown lazy and rely too heavily on internet searches and preaching illustration books which result in us passing on second-hand sermons.
In our often panicked search for innovative methods of communication which enable effective learning, reflection and action, we must resist the urge to expose our children by using them as sermon illustrations.
At least then, when they shudder at the memories of their childhood’s most embarrassing moments, the top entry won’t read mum’s sermons!
Juliet Kilpin is married, has two teenage children and juggles a portfolio lifestyle from her home in Essex, England. An urban advocate and activist for almost 25 years, Juliet helped to pioneer the work of Urban Expression, a charity committed to pioneering creative and relevant forms of church in our inner cities and prioritising those on the margins of society. Juliet is an ordained Baptist minister, writer, trainer and consultant. Her latest book, Urban to the Core is due to be published in January 2013. Juliet can be reached through her blog.
A new Literary Reflections writing prompt is published the first weekend of every month. Responses are accepted until the 15th, and we promise to comment shortly after that. Look for it - we'd love to hear from you.